John Ball Analysis


(Masterpieces of Fiction, Detective and Mystery Edition)

John Ball’s mystery novels document his status as a pioneering master of the police procedural genre. These finely crafted, intricately plotted works focus directly on the minutiae of criminal investigation, emphasizing both the efficiency of plodding routine and the necessity of dovetailing teamwork in solving and preventing crime. He concentrated on different aspects of these tasks in his two series. Virgil Tibbs works primarily on his own, meticulously piecing details together until the entire complicated picture emerges. Jack Tallon, on the other hand, is—as chief of police—the consummate organizer and team player; his solutions to problems arise from organized group efforts. Taken together, the two series (along with Ball’s nonseries mysteries) develop what might be called a systems approach to crime and detection. This focus on teamwork and on following established procedures was Ball’s trademark.


(Masterpieces of Fiction, Detective and Mystery Edition)

Ball, John. “Virgil Tibbs.” In The Great Detectives, edited by Otto Penzler. Boston: Little, Brown, 1978. Argues for the place of Detective Tibbs in the pantheon of great literary detectives.

“John Ball: Seventy-seven, Writer Noted for Virgil Tibbs.” Los Angeles Times, October 18, 1988, p. 26. Describes his life and career and notes the genesis of the character Tibbs.

Panek, LeRoy Lad. An Introduction to the Detective Story. Bowling Green, Ohio: Bowling Green State University Popular Press, 1987. Introductory overview of detective fiction by a major, prolific scholar of the genre. Provides context for understanding Ball.

Pepper, Andrew. The Contemporary American Crime Novel: Race, Ethnicity, Gender, Class. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2000. Examination of the representation and importance of various categories of identity in mainstream American crime fiction, including black detectives such as Tibbs.

Reddy, Maureen T. Traces, Codes, and Clues: Reading Race in Crime Fiction. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 2003. Comparative analysis of race in both American and British crime fiction. Sheds light on African American detectives, including Tibbs. Bibliographic references and index.

Walsh, Louise D. “Collector Tracks Down Fiction’s Black Sleuths.” The Washington Post, September 8, 1988, p. J01. In this article about a Washington, D.C., area collector of fiction featuring black detectives, the effect of the Tibbs character is discussed.

Winks, Robin W. Modus Operandi: An Excursion into Detective Fiction. Boston: D. R. Godine, 1982. Brief but suggestive history and critique of the detective genre. Helps place Ball’s writing in the greater context.